The crew of SV Delos like to party and post videos of themselves at play, but scratch the surface and there is a lot more to find, as Erin Carey reports
My skin was encrusted with a thin layer of salt from an afternoon at the beach. Having only arrived in Grenada a few weeks earlier, my husband and I and our three sons, all under ten years old, had adapted to the slower pace of life.
After our trip to the beach we made a stop at the supermarket, and it was there that I met Brian Trautman and his brother Brady – a crew I felt as though I already knew – a chance encounter that would lead to a string of meetings over the following 18 months.
We’d arrived from Australia having bought a boat sight unseen, but we weren’t sailors – we didn’t even know how to move from one anchorage to the next. In the lead-up to our two-year sabbatical, our sailing education consisted largely of YouTube videos, which we watched with feverish dedication. So, when I learnt that our favourite YouTube channel, SV Delos was also in Grenada, I was giddy with excitement.
With 360,000 YouTube subscribers, 1.8 million views per month and 125,000 Instagram followers, SV Delos have made a real name for themselves, having crossed every ocean and visited 46 countries with 75,000 nautical miles under their keel. Their video footage is state of the art, filming their adventures in some of the most isolated and exotic locations on earth. But what they don’t share in their videos, and what sets them apart from many of the 800 or so other sailing YouTube channels in existence, is the fact that they give back to many of the communities that they visit – in cash and in kind.
SV Delos – the early years and the great outdoors
Growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona, just a 90-minute drive from the Grand Canyon, Brian Trautman loved spending time in the great outdoors.
“I was really into monster trucks and dirt bikes,” he says. “If it was fast and allowed me to fly through mud pits or speed around dirt tracks in the forest, then I wanted to do it.”
In his teenage years, this interest led him to pursue a job as a diesel mechanic at the local garage after school. He worked for a pittance, but the funds allowed him to kit out his 4×4 and taught him vital skills that he’d one day use to maintain SV Delos.
As he approached high school graduation, Brian decided to study electrical engineering, eventually earning a Seattle university degree. After a stint working at Microsoft, he decided to set up his own software company, but working 60-hour weeks soon took its toll.
“My awake time was neatly segmented into little 50-minute chunks, with 10 minutes in between to run to the next meeting,” says Brian. “I had little time to do anything else. I literally lived and breathed work.”
One activity that did take his fancy during that time was boating. He lived beside a lake in Seattle and learned to sail at the suggestion of his younger brother Brett.
“He was visiting one weekend and said: ‘Brian, you live on a lake and you don’t have a boat!’ So we went out and bought a Catalina 22 the next day!”
Discovering how much he enjoyed being on the water, Brian then started crewing for various racing events. But it was the book Three Years in a 12-Foot Boat by Stephen G Ladd that caught Brian’s eye and changed his life forever.
“I borrowed it from the local library and devoured every word. I had no idea it was possible to cross an ocean in a small, single-handed vessel. From that moment on, I knew that I too wanted to sail across an ocean.”
He spent the next four years researching, saving, and doing all he could to buy a yacht of his own. He looked at countless boats and eventually narrowed it down to an Amel Super Maramu.
“When I came across Delos after two and a half years of searching, it was love at first sight. Eighteen months later, in August 2009, I untied those lines once and for all, and my partner and I set sail for what was meant to be an 18-month sabbatical to the land of the long white cloud – New Zealand.”
When Brian met Brady
He’d made it as far as Mexico when his brother Brady came to join him to help sail Delos across the Pacific Ocean. Having grown up in different states due to their parents separating when Brady was only nine years old, Brian had few memories of actually living with his brother. So, when Brady, a young environmental engineering student from Florida, rocked up on the transom with his backpack and cheeky smile, Brian had a feeling the two of them were in for some adventure-filled shenanigans. What he couldn’t have predicted was that Brady would never return to university; in fact, he would never leave the boat.
By the time the crew of three reached New Zealand in October 2010, it wasn’t only Delos that had ventured south. Things between Brian and his partner had ended, and it was now just the two brothers aboard the boat.
“Sailing can be a pressure cooker for relationships and if there are fundamental flaws in your relationship, they’ll become apparent very quickly,” says Brian.
With barely a dollar between them, Brian found work repairing electrical systems on superyachts, while Brady found a job at a local restaurant serving tacos and margaritas. And it was at the restaurant where he met Karin, a backpacker from Sweden. She and her friends were invited to a soiree aboard Delos and got on well with the two American brothers. Brian asked Karin to accompany him for a weekend sail aboard Delos and she’s now a permanent member of the crew as well.
But it wasn’t all margaritas and naked sailing aboard the fun-ship Delos. On reaching Australia in October 2011, they were once again broke. Brian returned to full-time work as a technical contractor, while Karin completed her studies in landscape architecture. The crew then set sail for Asia.
Making landfall in the Philippines in January 2014, they’d run out of money for a third time. Brady left to crew on superyachts, and Karin and Brian remained on board Delos.
“We’d planned to sail to Japan from the Philippines, but at the last minute we turned south towards Malaysia. I figured if we were going to be flat broke, it was better to be in Malaysia, where it was much cheaper to live than Japan,” says Brian.
“We made it to Borneo by June, and it was stinking hot. Critical systems on the boat were broken, and I didn’t have the parts or the money to fix them. The weather was terrible, and the Abu Sayyaf rebels in the area were kidnapping sailors for ransom,” he added.
Brian and Karin had a long discussion about why they were enduring those conditions, concluding that sailing for pleasure was meant to be fun.
Why were we there when we didn’t have to be?” says Karin. “We felt trapped by so many things and decided to make a change. So we chained Delos up to a concrete wall next to a golf course, hired a local guy to keep an eye on her, and flew back to Sweden to regroup.”
Making video pay
It was during this dark time in late 2014 that the crew considered throwing in the towel, but time away from the boat brought clarity. In Sweden, away from the oppressive heat and fear of kidnapping, they felt energized.
“We started being more productive with the videos, which ultimately allowed us to pursue our crowdfunding and Patreon campaigns, completely revitalising our project,” says Karin.
Clearly, their time spent away from Delos paid off, because soon after, the crew found their videos started to gain momentum.
“We were one of only a few sailing YouTube channels at the time, and I think people felt excited about what we were doing. I mean, we were having these incredible experiences and sharing them with the world, and at the time that concept was fairly new,” explains Brian.
One of my favourite videos was when the crew stopped off at the Revillagigedo Islands, located about 300 miles due south of Cabo San Lucas off the Pacific coast of Mexico. It is one of the few spots in the world known to have Giant Manta Rays interacting with humans.
Diving with 5m-wide 1,000kg animals in the wild is an extraordinary experience and by visiting on their own boat they were able to dive repeatedly.
“We discovered that if we were snorkelling, they’d go no deeper than 5m, but if we were scuba diving, they would go as deep as 30m,” says Brian.
“If I lost my grip, the manta would actually stop and allow me to get a better hold. It was an unbelievable experience, one I will never forget, and that was only a glimpse into how amazing interactions with gigantic aquatic animals could be!”
“This was the kind of experience we were releasing on YouTube, and people were fascinated by our lifestyle.” adds Brian.
One of the most frightening episodes was when the crew encountered gale force winds as an intense low pressure system engulfed them in the Indian Ocean.
“We were headed for the northern cape of Madagascar. It was blowing 50+ knots in 8m seas, and Delos was being thrown around like a rubber ducky in a bathtub,” says Brady.
“Those 24 hours were incredibly challenging and frightening. The howl of the wind through the rigging sounded like a freight train, and when we were down below, we could do little more than wedge ourselves in a safe corner and hope for the best.”
By about 2016, Delos was fully autonomous, and the crew no longer had to make stops to find work. They had over 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, and the crowdfunding platform known as Patreon, where ‘SV Delos’ was the first sailing channel, was beginning to take off. It was also around this time that Alex, also known as ‘Blue’, came aboard. Alex never dreamt that she too would fall for one of the crew members.
“I’d never even heard of SV Delos,” she laughs.
“A friend told me that a YouTube channel he watched was after new crew members, so I thought, why not? I’d crewed on a yacht before, owned my own video production company and was up for an adventure, so I figured I might have something to offer. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean was essentially a really long first date, and by the end of that passage, I had fallen for both the ocean and Brady.”
Behind the scenes with SV Delos
In a world of attention-seeking celebrities and digital oversharing, it was refreshing to meet the crew behind the channel ‘SV Delos’. They are passionate people who care deeply about making the world a better place.
Brady summed it up beautifully: “Giving is infectious and has no side effects. Helping people along the way gives sailing and travelling a bigger purpose, and knowing your purpose in life helps you live with integrity.”
The first initiative Delos became involved in was in Dominica in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“We did a video interview with Andy and Johanna for their ‘Sailing for a Smile’ project,” says Brady.
“We hoped that by using social media, we could highlight the fact there were still many parts of the country in desperate need of help. We considered selling shirts and pledging to give the proceeds to the cause, but after researching the idea, we found nearly 80% of the money would go to the manufacture of the shirts, leaving only 20% for the cause.
“Instead, we decided to put our money where our mouth was and offered to match a generous portion of the Delos Tribe donations to Sailing for a Smile.
“We decided to create a limited number of tote bags from Delos’s old mainsail.”
Precision Sails donated their time and expertise in manufacturing the bags, and Delos marketed them via their social media platforms. Since there was no cost in making the bags and the materials were upcycled sails, they were able to send 100% of the proceeds to charitable causes.
“We produced 170 bags in total, which all sold in less than a day,” says Brian.
In addition to the merchandise above, from the inception of their YouTube videos, SV Delos have been donating 10% of their YouTube, Patreon, and merchandise earnings to charity. These efforts have seen them donate a staggering $50,000 in 2019 alone, contributing to numerous charities including BASE Camp – Cancer Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Research Project, and the Haiti Sailing Cup.
While the crew use social media to promote their adventure, they are conscious about setting themselves apart from the modern-day influencer.
“We don’t like to think of ourselves as ‘influencers,’ certainly not in the way people have come to associate that term with the likes of Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner,” says Alex.
“But if we can influence just one person or YouTube channel to give back, then that’s the kind of influencers we want to be! I think in our current world of social media, people like to show the highlights of a place. They want it to appear like wherever they’ve visited is wonderland, that their life is perfect. But behind that facade, you’ll find ramshackle homes, hungry or uneducated kids and oppressed people,” she adds.
“It doesn’t feel fair to visit these places and tell only the positive, light side of the story. It doesn’t feel right just to take, whether it be resources, a photo or a memory. Every country, every community, has its battles, and many don’t have the resources to deal with them properly. I believe there is a big divide between communities like this and people who may have the means to help. The Delos Project helps to bridge that gap, to make a difference on a very local and direct level,” states Alex passionately.
“And I’m honoured to be a part of that.”
About the author
Hailing from the Land Down Under, Erin Carey is and adventure-loving traveller. She began writing while island-hopping around the Caribbean and now writes a regular blog on Facebook and Instagram @SailingtoRoam
SV Delos Youtube sailing channel: the top 3 video highlights
PBO’s very own video blog critic Kass Schmitt picks three of her favourite SV Delos episodes
Delos: The Archers of the YouTube sailing video blog scene. Or are they more like Friends? Or maybe Big Brother? Always changing, yet always somehow the same, there’s something for everyone in this channel, whether you’re interested in boat repair, passage making, scuba diving, environmental conservation, extreme sports, piracy, love stories, cultural exchange or simply watching attractive young people having more fun that you.
With well over 200 videos and counting, it’s a tall order to single out just three of their episodes to highlight, but here’s a few of my favourites:
Dynamite Fishing Caught On Film
This one goes a long way towards explaining why Brian and Karin temporarily left Delos in Malaysia and fled to Sweden to regroup. It starts with every boat owner’s nightmare: a blocked heads repair and then moves on to the stress of having to cruise in convoy with curfews and a navy escort due to the threat of piracy before finishing with the heartbreak of witnessing environmental vandalism that local conservationists feel powerless to prevent. On the bright side: Brian gets his first drone and shares the wonder of it with a bunch of kids on a remote Philippines island.
The crew is going INSANE by their passage at SEA!
This episode does a great job of conveying the magic of an open ocean passage as Delos makes her way from Namibia to St. Helena. There is plenty of silly banter, the excitement of swimming off the back of the boat during a mid-ocean calm, and quiet times as well. The solitary night watches serve as a sort of Big Brother diary room where the crew can share their reflections on the experience, and the mix of perspectives from both newbies and old hands keeps it fresh.
THE BOAT IS OURS! MUAHAHA!
A new era begins, as Brady, assisted by first mate Blue, takes command of Delos to do an Atlantic circuit while Brian and Karin head off to Sweden on parental leave. They welcome their new crew including existing Delos friends Sean, a South African professional sailor, and Chia, an Argentinian wave-chasing nomad. The winner of the ‘Delos Sailing Scholarship’ is forced to drop out at the last minute, but 22-year-old British runner-up Ruben takes her place. The crew seems to be gelling well as they work through the pre-departure job list, and all the ingredients seem to be there for another season of discovery, learning, fun and romance.